Description & Map
This walk starts and ends in the pretty village of Messing, named as Essex's 'Best Kept Village' in 2007 & 2008. The walk itself is entirely rural, going through farmland and two ancient woods, seemingly miles from civilisation. The countryside around Messing is gently undulating, giving the pleasing impression of rolling hills whilst actually being fairly flat. This means the walk manages to combine lovely views with easy walking. One section of the route utilises concrete tracks which were originally part of Birch Airfield, a mile to the east.
A. From the limited on-street parking (P), walk east towards the pub and then turn left at the T-junction along Lodge Road. Walk north for 75 yards then turn right down an enclosed path adjacent to the last of the old cottages, beside a detached garage (1). This leads you to a path between fields, heading east along a line of trees.
B. After 300 yards you will come to a concrete track. Continue east along here, for almost half a mile. As you approach the facing hedge the footpath bears slightly to the right, cutting off the north east corner of the field to your right. However most people continue along the concrete track almost to the hedgeline, then follow the track around to the right.
C. 130 yards after the right turn, there is a junction off to the left, climbing gently up the hill (2). Turn up here and continue along this track bearing left past the woods until you approach Birch Holt.
D. As you get near to the farm you can see what look like Nissen huts in the distance. While you are still 200 yards from the huts, turn right along the concrete track in front of a large oak tree, heading south with a hedge on your right (3). Continue all the way to the B1022.
E. At the roadside turn right and walk along the verge for 300 yards. Layer Wood is the other side on the road, on your left. Enter the woods using the easily missed footpath about 120 yards after the road sign warning of bends in the road ahead, and 150 yards before the bend itself (4). Head south through Layer Wood for about half a mile.
F. As you approach Keeper's Cottages turn right to walk alongside the garden fence to Haynes Green Road (5). Turn left on the road for 60 yards, then cross a small plank bridge on the right to walk roughly west.
G. Walk along the field edge with the hedge on your left. After 300 yards the hedgeline turns sharp left. At this point turn right to walk north across the field towards the inverted corner of the opposite hedge (6). When you reach the corner, continue north for a couple of paces, then cross through the hedge using a stile and go west, again with a hedge on your left.
H. Carry on over another stile, (7) and walk past the ancient defensive barrier known as The Rampart on your left. When you come to a farm track, turn left over The Rampart and then right to continue west, walking towards the woods (8).
I. Keep going west over a footbridge into Pods Wood and follow the path through the trees. After 360 yards you will come to a more major route through the woods, go straight across this to continue west (9). Stay on this path as it veers left, to the road.
J. Cross the B1022 and climb over the stile opposite, walking north along the field edge with a fence and woods on your right. The path goes to the right of a paddock, then continues north to New Road.
K. Turn right on the road and walk north for 80 yards, then cross a stile on the right into a field (10). Go along the northern field edge to another stile on the left, leading into Coneyfield Wood (11).
L. The route through Coneyfield Wood is not clearly defined. The exit is 400 yards north of the entrance, but we found we had to walk east first along a small path, then follow a more major track north west along the edge of the woods. As you are allowed to wander freely through these woods, you can choose your own route. We found these two magnificent Scots Pines to be a useful marker for getting out of the woods: the exit path runs between the trees (12).
M. Leave the woods along a field edge with a fence on your left then continue straight across the field to the fence opposite (13).
N. Turn left at the facing fence, walking west. At the facing hedge, turn right to follow a path north to the roadside (14). Turn right along School Road and follow the road round until you rejoin The Street, then turn right again towards All Saints Church and the parking.
Messing may seem to be a typical Essex village, with its pretty cottages and the pub and church at the centre of village life. But the villagers have a rebellious streak. Each year they declare Messing to be an independent state separate from the rest of the UK, and hold Independence Day parties in celebration. It seems somehow fitting then, that Messing is also the ancestral birthplace of two American presidents: the Bush family is descended from a Reynold Bush who left Messing in 1631.
Furthermore, according to Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1870-2, Messing got its name from Saxon words signifying 'the field of trampling' in an allusion to a battle between Queen Boadicea and the Romans. Clearly the maverick nature of the locals is not just a recent phenomenon.
Parts of this beautiful church date from the 14th century; in particular the roof of the nave has been there since 1360. But the most remarkable feature must be the enamelled glass east window. It was created by Abraham van Linge in 1628 and represents acts of mercy shown to those who were sick, hungry, thirty, naked, a stanger or in prison (Matthew 25:36). Most stained glass of that era was destroyed by the parliamentarians during the English Civil War, but in Messing, in a characteristically bold action, the villagers removed the window, placed it in the church chest and hid it in the vaults. The 14th century dug out chest is also visible in the church, on the south side, near the transept.
The concrete tracks to the east of Messing are part of Birch Airfield, built towards the end of WWII by the USAF. It had a strange, chequered history, becoming a base for the 410th Bombardment group in 1944 before construction was actually complete: within a couple of weeks the unit was transferred to RAF Gosfield and the construction continued. In May 1944 it was transferred to the Eighth Air Force as a reserve airfield for its 3rd Bombardment Division, but no operational units were assigned and it was only used for exercises or as an emergency landing site. In September 1944, 52nd Troop Carrier Wing was going to move to Birch from Grantham, but the plans were changed. Finally in March 1945 Birch Airfield saw operational use when 60 Horsa gliders and C47's and associated personnel arrived to participate in the airborne crossing of the Rhine. Most of the aircraft returned to other bases, and the RAF withdrew from the base a few days later. Thereafter, Birch was left virtually unused.
The Rampart is believed by some to be the site of the final battle between Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni, and the might of the Roman Empire. Boudicca was the widow of Prasutagus, the leader of the Iceni and ally of the Romans. When he died, he left his kingdom to be held jointly between his daughters and the Roman Empire. However, the Romans claimed the kingdom in total, capturing and beating Boudicca and raping her daughters. Boudicca took her revenge by starting a revolt against Roman rule. Under her leadership the Iceni, together with other Celtic tribes, destroyed Colchester and routed a Roman legion sent to defend the town. Many more bloody battles followed all over south east England, and Emperor Nero actually began to consider withdrawing his forces from Britain. However, in the end Roman superior weaponry and tactics won out, and Boudicca was defeated. Some say she was killed on the field of battle, others that she took her own life. It seems hard to imagine such bloody carnage in what is now a tranquil, beautiful corner of Essex.